New Jersey Department of Health

PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
July 30, 2021

Judith M. Persichilli

For Further Information Contact:
Office of Communications
(609) 984-7160

New Jersey Department of Health Investigating Possible Cluster of Legionnaires’ Disease Cases in Essex County

The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) is investigating a possible cluster of Legionnaires’ disease cases in Essex County, New Jersey.

As of July 30, NJDOH is aware of eight suspected cases of Legionnaires’ disease in individuals who reside in or visited Essex County, New Jersey. The cases were reported to NJDOH between July 16 through July 26, 2021. NJDOH is currently working with the local health departments in Essex County to investigate these cases.

“The risk of Legionnaires’ disease among any resident of, or recent visitor to Essex County is low,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “Out of an abundance of caution, the Department recommends that individuals who live in Essex County who become ill with pneumonia-like/respiratory symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, muscle aches, and headache visit their healthcare provider immediately to be evaluated.”

As it can take up to two weeks for symptoms to develop, NJDOH recommends that those who develop symptoms within two weeks of visiting Essex County also seek medical attention. NJDOH has alerted healthcare providers in the area. A laboratory test is required to determine if you are sick with Legionnaires’ disease or COVID-19. Legionnaires’ disease is treatable with antibiotics. It is important to note that symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to those of COVID-19.

Most healthy people exposed to Legionella do not develop Legionnaires’ disease. People over the age of 50, especially those who smoke cigarettes, or those with certain medical conditions, including weakened immune systems, chronic lung disease or other chronic health conditions, are at increased risk for Legionnaires’ disease.

This is a continuing investigation. NJDOH is working closely with the local health departments in Essex County to identify where these individuals may have been exposed to Legionella bacteria. Any identified sources that are confirmed to have and be able to spread Legionella will be remediated to prevent further transmission. It is possible that multiple sources of Legionella may be identified. Investigations into these types of Legionnaires’ disease clusters are complex. It is often not possible to determine the origin of the bacteria that infected people.

NJDOH receives approximately 250-350 reports of Legionnaires’ disease each year. Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by bacteria called Legionella. People can get Legionnaires’ disease by breathing in aerosolized (small droplets) water containing Legionella bacteria. Aerosolized water can come from cooling towers (air-conditioning units for large buildings), hot tubs, cooling misters, decorative fountains, and plumbing systems. Less commonly, people can get sick by aspiration of tap water containing Legionella. This happens when water accidently goes into the lungs while drinking (“goes down the wrong pipe”). People at increased risk of aspiration include those with swallowing difficulties. Home A/C units do not use water to cool, so these home units do not aerosolize water and are not a risk for Legionella growth. Legionnaires’ disease is not spread person to person.

Frequently Asked Questions on Legionnaires’ disease can be found on the Department’s website.

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